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Liberian President Tells Grads to Follow Their Dreams

Published: May 11, 2009


» Slide Show 
When the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, spoke to University of Tampa graduates on May 9 at the St. Pete Times Forum, she urged them to hang onto their dreams, despite the current economy.

“If you’re willing at this junction to accept what’s available, and build upon your skills while positioning yourself for that dream job, you’ll be better prepared when the economy rebounds – and believe me, it surely will,” Sirleaf said.

Sirleaf’s own life story is a lesson in patience. She pointed out that when she was the age of many of the graduates, she was married, on her way to having four young sons and working various odd jobs.

Nonetheless, she attended college and was eventually able to get a scholarship to study business at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she waited tables to make ends meet. She later had the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

After living in exile from her own country, Sirleaf ran for the presidency of Liberia in 2005, against several men. She became the first woman elected to the presidency of an African nation.

“I went from being a desperate housewife to become the president of my country,” she said, to a cheering audience. “I hope that my own life can serve as an example and an inspiration to you to never, never give up on your dreams.”

Sirleaf commented on the large number of women graduating, and urged them to continue their education, so that they too could become leaders someday.

She also suggested that students perform public service and urged them to work overseas, so they can share their knowledge and experience with people who need so much and have so little. She also said to consider jobs in healthcare or teaching, “two areas where UT excels.”

Sirleaf ended her speech similarly to how it started, urging the graduates to follow their dreams, just as she had.

“Hang on to that dream, hang on to those goals,” she said. “Be committed, be persistent, and you will get there.”

Graduate Jabari Bennett, who followed Sirleaf’s speech, challenged his fellow graduates to exceed expectations, even though it may take patience. Bennett, of Stone Mountain, Ga., spoke about success and the many ways of defining it. “We, my friends, are tomorrow’s social engineers; we hold success in our hands like clay, ready to mold the future for the good of society.”

More than 1,000 students were in the graduating class of 2009, a record-breaking number for UT.
» Read the entire Sirleaf Commencement address. (PDF)